Custom Alexa Node-Red Skill

Custom Alexa Node-Red Skill

Finally! I am surprised it didn’t even take as long as it usually does for me to figure shit out. Took a few weeks. As usual, I did not come up with the solution on my own but found it out on the web and slapped it all together. I wanted a custom Alexa Node-Red skill, to be able to take a command given to Alexa and read back data from one of my sensors. Things like temperature sensors, water level, etc. I wanted to be able to ask Alexa what the values are. What I got: exactly what I wanted. It all works. There is two parts to this: the Node-Red flow and the Alexa skill.

Alexa Node-Red

First off, to get any of this working you must have your Node-Red server accessible from the outside world. That means port-forwarding, DNS, domains, SSL, all that. It’s fun getting it all working. Not. Just like my previous post, I happened to have it already setup. Once your Node-Red install is available from the web you are good to go. Now you don’t need the entire NR setup opened up either. I just allowed a few NR served pages to be available. Not the entire NR itself.

Update: I made a new post about Node-Red behind a reverse-proxy/SSL

Let’s Begin

It starts with a regular HTTP node to a switch node. That switch node splits up Alexa’s requests to NR; LaunchRequest, IntentRequest, SessionEndedRequest. LaunchRequest gets invoked when the skill starts. You could have Alexa say “Hello what do you want?” for example. IntentRequest is the goods. Then theres SessionEndedRequest, I’m assuming this gets called at the end. Haven’t toyed with it. Then you pass those requests off to do other stuff, like the DoCommand where it grabs your intent? Then a function node to extract the commands, which gets passed off to another switch node to split up the possible commands you can give Alexa. Give her as many commands as you want, then there is a “device doesn’t exist” at the bottom. This is used if she didn’t hear you right or the device doesn’t exist. All that data gets passed to a template to format what Alexa will say and sticks the data in JSON. Bam! That wasn’t so hard right?

Here’s the flow (all standard nodes):

That’s the Node-Red half. You are not done yet. On to the Alexa skills half. This part is easy don’t worry. Login to your Amazon Dashboard and click Alexa. Choose “Get Started” with the Alexa Skills Kit, click add a new skill. Under Skill Information give it a name and choose the invocation word, what you will say to Alexa to start your skill. I chose “Node Red”, so I have to say “Alexa, ask Node Red….”. These can be changed at any time it seems. You won’t be publishing this skill, it stays beta for only you to use. For the Global Fields section, no you will not be using an audio player. Well, maybe you will but I didn’t, and it will probably change things for you.

Note about the flow: The NR flow works (for me) just fine however I noticed it throws an error in the debug tab whenever a command is called. If it is an unrecognized command response it doesn’t throw the error though. It complains about headers already being sent. I will update the flow if I find a fix for it.

Interaction Model

Intent Schema

Intent Schema

This is the part of the Alexa skill where you tell it what to do. It is pretty straight forward. Just copy this to your “Intent Schema”. There are no custom slot types and no values to enter.

Sample Utterances

Sample Utterances

This is where you list the invocation phrases that will activate Alexa. Normally (and in other online tutorials for Alexa skills) this is where you add a ton of different phrases. But we are not. Node-Red is going to handle that side for us. This box just gets one line of text.

Configuration

Global Fields/Endpoint

For a service endpoint you are going to pick “HTTPS”. In a lot of other tutorials you will usually choose AWS Lambda but we are doing all of our own heavy lifting with NR. We don’t need no stinking Lambda. Choose your closest location and enter the URL that your Node-Red is accessible from (via the web remember). Say no to account linking and you can also leave Permissions alone.

SSL Certificate

Certificate for Endpoint

Choose the option that bests describes you. Most likely it will be the first option. For me I am using a subdomain that is already SSL’d with Let’s Encrypt so I choose the second option.

Test

Basically just leave the toggle flipped to enable the skill for you to use. you don’t need to do anything else on this page.

Publishing Information

Nothing to do here, you won’t be publishing this skill. Why? Because it requires too much setup on the users behalf. I don’t think Amazon would approve a half functioning skill that requires advanced user setup to get working. You could always try. Good luck.

Privacy & Compliance

Three no’s and one box to check, I mean as long as it all applies to you right 😉

Done

That should be it. With Node-Red available to the web and the flow implimented and with the new Alexa skill you just made you should be good to. I hope you found this useful, I sure wish I had found a blog post like this. Now go test it out with your Amazon Echo/Dot!

At the time of this writing a beta product appeared in the Amazon Dashboard for a the “Skill Builder”, looks to be a new UI for building Alexa skills. If this gets implemented for everyone in the future things may be different than they are described in this blog post.

This is where I found the goodness, buried deep in comments on a (awesome) blog.

Alexa, turn on Red Alert!

Alexa, turn on Red Alert!

I love Star Trek (any good SciFi really) and who doesn’t? I also have an Amazon echo and I have been making my home smarter and adding automation where I can, very SciFi’ish yeah? The other day I thought to myself how cool would it be if I could activate a red alert”? Well I do have the Dot and I do have Philips Hue bulbs. I do have a home server and I do have Raspberry Pies. So I decided I wanted to have this feature and set out to get it done. As it turns out I am not the only one that wanted to be able to do this. After Googling I found a few other people that went through a similar process. Although I have not seen anyone do it the way I did. The ones I found mostly accomplished it with a Google Home Assistant and some used Node-Red. Hey, I have Node-Red. I guess the Home Assistant can play audio files. I have found a few pages on Alexa doing this recently but I have not gotten into making skills, yet. All the pages I saw also seemed to rely on an outside service of some kind (minus the voice assistant). They pulled the audio from the web or used IFTTT (which I hate) to do something. I don’t want that. I like to be as self contained as possible. Here’s what I did.

I have my home server setup with NR and it takes it all the MQTT in the house and does all the NR handling for the house. Then I have a Raspberry Pi (that also sits on top of the server), this has a temperature sensor on it and it handles the audio portion of the red alert. Since it is sitting there I also have it monitor the server, and the server monitor the Pi.

 

Yes I have a server and a Pi, yes they both also run NR. Why do I not use just the server instead of the Pi? The server doesn’t have a sound card and I don’t have an extra one. So yeah.

 

Flow 1
Flow 1

This flow is where I make the color changes. I use the Wemo Emulator node to create a device Alexa can discover, that also allows me to choose my own trigger word. That node gives a 1 or a 0 (on or off). I pass that to a function that contains the hue bulb color and activates the alert pulsing, this all flows to the hue bulb and out via MQTT. In the flow I only have one hue bulb connected. I have since connected the red alert to all the bulbs I have (currently 4 colored ones).

Flow 2
Flow 2

Here is where I activate the audio. I initially tried omxplayer. I found a shell script that looped the audio but it gave me issues when trying to kill the process. It only worked the first time. The processes didn’t die completely. I want to be able to stop the red alert also. So I continued searching. I came across a post in the NR Google groups and they had created a flow for playing a sound off of motion detection. I was able to take the kill (killall, duh) command he used to stop my flow. I also used the player (mpg123) he used because it has looping options builtin. Sweetness.

I am now able to tell Alexa to turn on a red alert and have her stop it as well. This doesn’t used IFTTT or rely on any other outside source (besides Alexa). It does not require an Alexa skill either. I have future plans to make a custom skill for this so I can change the phrase from “turn on red alert” to something more comfortable like “activate red alert”.

Onward to the flows!

Flow for the red alert lights:

Flow for the red alert audio:

(You may notice that the flows are different from the images, I cleaned up the flow before exporting and pasting the code.)

UPDATE 8/29/2017: I added updated code/flows so that you can disable the Red Alert lights. Previously a “stop node red” command would silence the sounds but not cancel the flashing lights. With the new update the sounds stop and the lights stop flashing and turn white. Still working on getting the lights to default to white after the Red Alert times out. 

 

UPDATED RED ALERT STOP FLOW 8/29/2017

Stop Red Alert

 

Some pages I found helpful.

Where I got the red alert sound
http://trekcore.com/audio/

Play Ambient audio on motion detection
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/node-red/audio|sort:relevance/node-red/vwQq8Plk0Zg/6DV5ZYMRCAAJ

The code for the ambient audio
https://github.com/natcl/exporail_video_player

Google Home Assitant and an RPi with video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j3QQlc_efY

Automated Keyboard Light with Alexa

Since I have been fiddling with Alexa I was able to get a light working with Wemo emulation. Both on the Raspberry Pi and on the ESP itself. I am mostly using the ESP with Fauxmo to act as physical devices. The Wemo emulation being done on the Pi is for running a bunch of scripts with MQTT or (hopefully in the future) gettin’ data from sensors and such. Still trying to find a way to get Alexa to read whatever I give her from MQTT, that would be righteous. But for now I have an automated keyboard light with Alexa.

(TLDR; Made a keyboard light on an ESP with a relay that emulates a Wemo plug and is voice activated by Alexa. Skip to the bottom for the code I used.

Any who, I replaced my old keyboard light switch made out of an old telephone biscuit jack with a toggle switch. I upgraded. I can now voice activate my keyboard light with Alexa. Man I’m lazy, and man that is cool. Not the lazy part the keyboard light. I do have to admit this was not my first attempt at this build. I tried two times before I finally got it right. The first two times I was trying to use 2N2222 and 2N3904 transistors and neither would work right for me. I was able to get it all working on the breadboard just fine but as soon as I transferred it to a PCB it failed. I think the problem is with the transistor. From my measurements it keeps leaking 12v back through the base and I don’t know enough about electronics to be able to figure it out yet, obviously, I tried twice.

So the third time I used the pre-made modules I have; 5v relay module. I put together a small PCB for the ESP and a DC-DC converter and added some pins to use jumper wires to attach to the relay. Soldered the power to a barrel jack and hooked up a toggle switch and connected it to the relay. So if I flip the switch it bypasses the relay and I get light manually. Always good to have a backup. The switch will work with or without the ESP plugged in. I plugged it in and bam! It worked. I gave Alexa a few commands and on and off the relay clicked. Beautiful.

Then……it failed, it started flickering the relay. It took me a minute to figure it out. I forgot the current limiting resistor on GPIO2 for the relay. Oops. That’s an easy fix luckily. The green jumper wire in the pictures goes to the pin header from GPIO2, so all I had to do was remove the jumper wire and replace it with a 1K ohm resistor. Easy. It was getting late so I turned it off and removed the ESP. The next day I go over to my computer and I can smell the lovely aroma of burnt electronics. Fuck. I look down and I can see the DC-DC converter sparking on the underside of the PCB. Turned out to be a bad solder job on my part. Since my liver transplant I have to take a shit load of pills, and some of these pills cause my hands to shake. Sometimes it’s not so bad and other times it’s ridiculous. I guess they were shaking more than I thought that night.

So I had to rebuild the whole thing. Again. Live and learn. This time I was sure to leave extra space in my solder routing just in case. The Mark IV has been up and running with zero problems for two days now. I think I worked out the kinks. And it is awesome to be able to sit down and tell Alexa to turn on my computer room and keyboard lights. Hell with Node-Red I could even WOL my computer!

Now behold, pictures…

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Alexa Skills

Alexa Skills

I purchased an Amazon Echo Dot a couple weeks back. In the past I had stated that I would never put one in my house, and generally had a distain for voice activated things. I had done a little bit of reading on the Dot and I have been getting further into home automated things. I finally had a light bulb moment where I now understand all the coding. I am now dangerous. Haha.

Logically the next step was integrating Alexa with my custom build devices. All of my devices work off an ESP or Raspberry Pi (or will). I found Fauxmo Wemo emulation which is fantastic. That covers about 60% of my use, a simple off and on. But for things like my temperature sensors, hyrgrometers and water lever sensors I need to be able to pull data and have Alexa read it back. Like “Alexa, ask server for the temperature.” Or “Alexa, ask the garden for an update.” All of my devices communicate via MQTT. I started with Node-Red without Alexa so this is the direction I went. I still think it was the best route to go. All I need is an Alexa skill to read back different inbound MQTT topics (for different devices). I can’t believe there isn’t a skill already out there to read back MQTT data or homebrew temperature sensors. Or is there and I haven’t found it yet? The majority of the available Alexa skills fucking suck. There are very few actually useful skills to use. The majority of the skills I have seen are garbage. One off skills you would use once or twice then forget about. More Alexa joke skills than there needs to be.

So I started looking into making my own skill. This is what I have found to get started with creating a skill.

  • You need an Amazon AWS Developer account
  • You need access Lambda
  • You must subscribe to basic free tier of service
  • You must subscribe to Amazon EC2, which is only free for one year.

So is this a catch with using custom skills and Alexa? Will my skills then start costing me money after 12 months. If I cancel after 12 months do I lose all my skills? I’m thinking yes, I will bet you Amazon is planning on cashing in on this later? Or is it already that late in the Echo game that I am just being unfoundedly paranoid?

I have not yet created a skill. Javascript is not my forte and I haven’t sat down to dig in to this yet.

 

Some info that I found hard to find:
https://forums.developer.amazon.com/articles/45945/where-do-i-find-the-alexa-skills-kit-trigger-event.html

Great walk-through on creating a new skill:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zt9WdE5kR6g